Nestled on the banks of the Trave River in Germany's far north, Lübeck invites visitors to walk through medieval Germany.
Lübeck's entry gate:The Holsentor and the Marienkirche
In the 14th century, Lübeck became the queen of the Hanseatic league, gaining the status of the largest and the most powerful member of the medieval trade organization that connected cities throughout the Baltic region.
The entire city, with more than 1,000 land-marked and historical buildings, can easily be toured in a day's walk. Visitors will quickly feel transported back in time, especially since cars are prohibited in the city's walled old quarters.
After stepping through the massive "Holsentor" (Holsten Gate), the visitor is surrounded by well-preserved gable houses built with red bricks and decorated with clinkers. The city's popular shopping streets are lined with town houses from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classic periods. The streets are still paved with cobblestones, and alleys and courtyards branch off in all directions, beckoning to be explored.
Streets within streets
Thomas Mann in front of the Buddenbrook House in Lübeck
Many of the neighborhoods around the old city used to be Lübeck's artisan and craftsmen quarters, where the hand workers and small tradesmen lived and worked. A housing shortage hit the town in the Middle Ages, and Lübeck needed a creative solution to accommodate the growing numbers of workers.
The solution was to create streets within streets. City planners used the narrow passageways between existing buildings as mini-streets, where they built one- or two-story homes. A hundred of these hidden, back-alley streets still exist. Today they have a cozy, dollhouse kind of charm.
Many of Germany's historical city centers were bombed during World War Two and Lübeck was no exception. The Gothic St. Marienkirche, Germany's third largest church, was burned down completely. When the building went up in flames, the church bell fell on the stone floor and melted under the extreme heat. The melted bell still remains on the ground, a silent reminder of those who lost their lives during the war.
Cafe Niederegger in Lübeck since 1806
Lübeck is intricately connected to the life of the Mann family, whose most famous son, Thomas Mann, received the Nobel Prize for literature. His novel "Buddenbrooks" is set in Lübeck and those who have read it will easily fall into the footsteps of the famous characters when they walk through the city.
In addition to literature, the people of Lübeck love to cultivate their cultural traditions. The city beckons visitors with its twenty museums and galleries and innumerable exhibitions. In the evenings there are poetry readings at the "Buddenbrook" House. Artists like Dave Brubeck, Juliette Gréco and Anne Sophie Mutter have all performed in Lübeck’s modern music and congress hall. The acoustics of the 2,000-seat concert hall are comparable to those of Carnegie Hall in New York.
The local residents are proud of what their small city offers: "Kiel may be the state capital, but we are the cultural capital," they often boast.
No trip to Lübeck is complete without tasting the city's marzipan, an almond and sugar paste that has delighted bon vivants for centuries. There are many stories about the origin of this specialty. One of them claims the town, during a military siege, ran out of all foods except almonds and sugar and the bakers made loaves of Marzipan "bread" with it.